Select Page

Helping African companies to get serious about innovation – Dr Christina Swart-Opperman

Helping African companies to get serious about innovation – Dr Christina Swart-Opperman

South Africa fares poorly when it comes to innovation in part because many organisations have no clear guidelines on what innovation actually entails – nor with specific criteria on innovation team composition, said newly appointed senior lecturer at the Allan Gray Centre for Values-Based Leadership at the UCT GSB Dr Christina Swart-Opperman.

Innovation is considered crucial for economic growth, sustainability and competitiveness. South Africa, however, ranks only 58th on the global ranking of the Global Innovation Index (GII). Some of the reasons for this are because many companies are unclear on their innovation agenda and lack execution success.

“Companies need to budget for innovation,” said Dr Christina Swart-Opperman, an industrial psychologist and newly appointed senior lecturer at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (GSB).

“This does not necessarily mean monetary allocation, but that people are encouraged to take risks, are allowed to make mistakes and that space be created for innovation to be practically executed,” she added.

Dr Swart-Opperman recently joined the Allan Gray Centre for Values-Based Leadership at the UCT GSB, an institution that is dedicated to exploring new ways of doing business based on purpose, values and responsible practices that create dignity and belonging. This includes business model innovation that is values-based and inclusive, as well as exploring ways to contribute to the positive development of the economy and society.

For Dr Swart-Opperman, innovation is about creativity and creating a safe space for people to be courageous enough to improve on processes and procedures.

“People need to know that innovation is not only about discovering something big, but that it can be a slight change to a procedure and method. It is important that staff be acknowledged for improvements or new and original ideas,” she said.

For her second doctoral thesis, under the supervision of Professor Kurt April, she researched innovation team composition in nine African countries within the financial services industry. Except for criteria such as relevant disciplinary expertise, experience and several diversity considerations, she believes that team members’ emotions add an additional insight into optimising implementation success.

“My research showed that most organisations don’t have a real definition of what they consider to be innovation, nor specific criteria for such teams’ composition”. She said that the Human Resources Director is an important business partner in realising the innovation agenda of an organisation.

Her research findings were that successful implementation teams depended more on the individual’s intra-psychological strengths (mental acuity, emotional self-management and emotional intelligence), with a secondary focus on interpersonal aspects and team dynamics. A specific team profile, therefore, does not guarantee implementation success.

Her professional interest in the emotive outlook of individuals is not surprising, considering she began her career as an industrial psychologist. Her first doctoral study was on the challenges facing career women and their intra-psychological empowerment. She went on to found the first HR consulting practice in Namibia and occupy various Board and managerial positions in the corporate world, as well as being the first female Partner/Director for the People Consulting Practice of PwC (focusing on human resources consulting).

She has won several awards including the IPM Award for Personnel Practitioner of the Year in 2003, the Most Distinguished Order of Namibia in 2014, Namibian Economist Business Woman of the Year in 2002, and the Namibia HIV/AIDS Community Award in 2005. She was also one of the recipients of Standard Bank’s Women of Excellence Awards in 2016.

In addition to her new role at the GSB, Dr Swart-Opperman will continue lecturing at the University of Namibia’s Graduate School of Business, while working on new areas of research as well. She is excited about this new phase in her professional life and hopes to be able to use her new position to present organisations with a different way to think about their implementation teams.

“I am fascinated by the fact that there are so many excellent ideas out there, but so few of them make it to the execution phase. To me, the challenge is looking at it in practical terms and finding ways to guide organisations.”

She advised companies who want to be more innovative, to make innovation part of their daily conversations, all communications channels and Board agendas. She says that people must share their stories about innovation and be encouraged to walk the talk.

“But this should come from the business leadership, as there needs to be a clear directive from the top on how innovation should be encouraged at the workplace,” she said.


About The Author

Community Contributor

The Community Contributor is any of a number of authors whose specific beat is community wellness, development and upliftment. Many of the authors have been contributors to the Economist for years. Others work for commercial enterprises, specialising in spreading their Corporate Social Responsibility messages. Ed.

Following reverse listing, public can now acquire shareholding in Paratus Namibia


20 February 2020, Windhoek, Namibia: Paratus Namibia Holdings (PNH) was founded as Nimbus Infrastructure Limited (“Nimbus”), Namibia’s first Capital Pool Company listed on the Namibian Stock Exchange (“NSX”).

Although targeting an initial capital raising of N$300 million, Nimbus nonetheless managed to secure funding to the value of N$98 million through its CPC listing. With a mandate to invest in ICT infrastructure in sub-Sahara Africa, it concluded management agreements with financial partner Cirrus and technology partner, Paratus Telecommunications (Pty) Ltd (“Paratus Namibia”).

Paratus Namibia Managing Director, Andrew Hall

Its first investment was placed in Paratus Namibia, a fully licensed communications operator in Namibia under regulation of the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN). Nimbus has since been able to increase its capital asset base to close to N$500 million over the past two years.

In order to streamline further investment and to avoid duplicating potential ICT projects in the market between Nimbus and Paratus Namibia, it was decided to consolidate the operations.

Publishing various circulars to shareholders, Nimbus took up a 100% shareholding stake in Paratus Namibia in 2019 and proceeded to apply to have its name changed to Paratus Namibia Holdings with a consolidated board structure to ensure streamlined operations between the capital holdings and the operational arm of the business.

This transaction was approved by the Competitions Commission as well as CRAN, following all the relevant regulatory approvals as well as the necessary requirements in terms of corporate governance structures.

Paratus Namibia has evolved as a fully comprehensive communications operator in Namibia and operates as the head office of the Paratus Group in Africa. Paratus has established a pan-African footprint with operations in six African countries, being: Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.

The group has achieved many successes over the years of which more recently includes the building of the Trans-Kalahari Fibre (TKF) project, which connects from the West Africa Cable System (WACS) eastward through Namibia to Botswana and onward to Johannesburg. The TKF also extends northward through Zambia to connect to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, which made Paratus the first operator to connect the west and east coast of Africa under one Autonomous System Number (ASN).

This means that Paratus is now “exporting” internet capacity to landlocked countries such as Zambia, Botswana, the DRC with more countries to be targeted, and through its extensive African network, Paratus is well-positioned to expand the network even further into emerging ICT territories.

PNH as a fully-listed entity on the NSX, is therefore now the 100% shareholder of Paratus Namibia thereby becoming a public company. PNH is ready to invest in the future of the ICT environment in Namibia. The public is therefore invited and welcome to acquire shares in Paratus Namibia Holdings by speaking to a local stockbroker registered with the NSX. The future is bright, and the opportunities are endless.